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Boris Johnson's sleight of hand. Smoke and mirrors (part 2)

Nicky Gavron, Labour’s London Assembly housing and planning spokesperson, has called on Mayor Boris Johnson to come clean over claiming credit for 16,000 affordable homes that will never be delivered.  Nicky has today written to Richard Blakeway, the Mayor’s housing adviser, to explain why he has apparently double counted around 16,000 affordable homes.
Blakeway said this week that “around 54,000 completions” are expected over the “next four years” (2011-15), apparently including 16,000 affordable homes that will already have been counted towards the Mayor’s target of 50,000 homes by 2012.
Nicky wrote: “I am extremely concerned at the way the mayor’s office has apparently
double counted this information. At best it is a lazy, yet very important, error. At worst you have blatantly misled Londoners on your housing delivery.
She went on to say that the misuse of statistics “undermines the challenges we face, and this apparent sleight of hand does nothing to reassure Londoners we are delivering what the city needs.
Nicky commented: “The mayor needs to be beating targets, not cheating them. He’s already broken his election pledge to deliver 50,000 homes by 2011. It now looks like he’s trying to claim credit twice for thousands of extra homes.
Richard Blakeway wrote in the Guardian on Thursday 1 September, “the mayor is on course to deliver 50,000 affordable homes by April 2012 …. The pipeline of affordable
housing for the next four years is also strong, with around 54,000 completions expected”.
In April, Alan Benson, head of housing at the Greater London Authority, told the London
Assembly’s housing and planning committee: “About 28,000 homes … are in the pipeline to be delivered. We will deliver about 16,000 of them by 2012. The rest will be delivered in the following year, 2012/13. There is a substantial pipeline of homes in development currently, on site, which will deliver over the next couple of years, which the Government is committed to funding and which are an entirely social rent/intermediate mix as we know it.”

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Boris Johnson’s housing strategy: it’s all smoke and mirrors

When you strip away the froth and the gimmicks, the more Boris Johnson publishes about his housing strategy for London the more it looks like a plan for the gentrification of large areas of the capital.  No more social housing funded from his London pot, just ‘affordable rent’ at much higher rents.  An end to the ‘50% affordable’ target in housing development.
No social rent targets set for the boroughs.  No mitigation of the government’s Local Housing Allowance caps and the cap on total benefits, which even he fears might lead to ‘Kosovo-style cleansing’ of poor people from some parts of the city.
Johnson’s recently published London Plan, which will determine development over the next decade, has been well critiqued by Labour’s Nicky Gavron in the Guardian. She shows how the plan’s overall housing target is inadequate to meet London’s needs, but reserves her strongest criticisms for his policies for social housing and Johnson’s decision to remove Ken Livingstone’s planning policy that 50% of new homes should be affordable
and that, of those, 70% should be for social rent.  These policies were based on detailed
assessments of housing need and the capacity of sites to deliver, and were beginning to have real effect.  They were also supported by the independent Inspector responsible for
investigating Johnson’s proposals.  All the inspector’s key recommendations have been ignored or over-ridden by Johnson and Eric Pickles, it appears on ideological grounds.
Why smoke and mirrors?  Well, Johnson talks the talk but he walks a very different walk.  He may be a card, but he is at heart a highly ideological Tory.  Just like his fellow Bullingdon boy, David Cameron, the compassionate talk and the occasionally progressive idea hide the harsh market-driven policy.  For example, despite saying that he didn’t want London to become like Paris “where the less well off are pushed out to the suburbs” his plan proposes building market housing in areas where there is a lot of social housing to provide a better mix but then fails to ensure that social housing will be built in areas of mainly market housing to create more mixed communities everywhere.  It seems nowhere
is appropriate for social housing.  He gives the go-ahead to his friends in the boroughs to remove social housing in so-called regeneration schemes, homes that will not be adequately replaced.  Taken together with the government’s housing benefit policies, we now have a fully fledged policy of removing social housing, failing to build any more, and encouraging the social segregation of the city.  His policies will make London like Paris but
Why smoke and mirrors?  Well, just published, his latest consultation document – Initial Proposals for a Revised London Housing Strategy continues to claim credit for the delivery of social rented homes as if he really cares about having a balanced housing programme.  Housing development is a very long process and the social rented homes he’s talking about are mainly the completion of those that were started under the programme for 2008-11 that was set by Ken Livingstone and the Labour government before leaving office.
Why smoke and mirrors?  To understand the mayor’s real housing policy we have to look at his first unfettered decisions – the new programme for 2011-2015 – which virtually excludes funding for new social rented homes.  Any new social rented homes that get built in future will either be subsidy-free (for example as a result of s.106 agreements) or will be built with local borough subsidy (eg through free land) or directly by the councils themselves.  Johnson replaces homes for social rent with housing at ‘affordable rent’ levels (up to 80% of market rents).  He claims in his document that this is a great achievement – providing ‘affordable’ homes with far lower levels of public subsidy.  Magic.  But the truth is that the rents are not affordable, the cost is transferred to the occupier or, if the occupier is eligible, onto the housing benefit bill.  It is a less direct and less efficient way of providing homes.  Despite the government’s protestations that it wants to make it easier to get into work, the scheme’s high rents make it harder.
Throughout, the real aim, to ‘marketise’ housing and remove social housing as a concept, is hidden from public view.
And the man with a shock of white hair, a top hat, a few jokes and a droopy magic wand, releases the blue smoke, flashes the bright lights and deploys the mirrors.  The trick is complete.
Cue applause.  Or catcalls – because he’s been rumbled.

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Less for Less for London: Boris in a spin over affordable housing

Boris ‘codswallop’ Johnson’s failures in housing are becoming clearer as the London mayoral Election campaign hots up.  It may be that his calamities in other areas achieve bigger headlines – dismissing the importance of the hacking scandal was a very big misjudgement, and losing so many senior police officers seems slightly careless – and he has begun to show a grumpy side to his character that belies his carefully crafted jovial upper class twit image.
London was starting to do well in housing when Johnson took over in 2008.  Ken Livingstone’s London Plan and Housing Strategy policies were beginning to bite and have real effect, policies such as the 50% affordable target across London were well known and understood by developers, and, despite the global financial crisis, Ken had secured the largest housing budget for decades from the Labour Government.  The Homes and Communities Agency outturn statement confirms that expenditure between 2008 and 2011 (ie the period covering Ken’s planned programme) in London was £3,753m, £1,251m a year over three years.
The newly announced programme of £157m a year for four years represents a cut of 87% and the gap will have to be made up by much greater housing association borrowing.  In April Stephen Howlett, then Chair of the G15 Group of major Housing Associations, told the London Assembly Planning and Housing Committee: “I think one calculation is that, to deliver the Mayor’s programme, will take as much private money over the next four years as associations have borrowed since 1988 to deliver the homes in London. Those exact figures are open to comment but I have to emphasise that housing associations in London will be taking on enormously increased debt and risk as a result of this.
Commenting on the announcement by the Mayor and the Homes and Communities Agency on the allocation of funding for affordable house building to London, Nicky Gavron AM, Labour Group Spokesperson for Planning and Housing on the London Assembly, said:

Despite the Mayor putting a brave face on it, London is getting less for less.
The new information is that the Mayor has been given only £627 million to spend on affordable housing between 2011 and 2015. This is a cut to London of 87% compared with the previous funding round.
From 2008 the last Government gave London £5bn to spend on affordable housing, of which £3.7bn was used to deliver 50,000 affordable homes by 2011. Johnson missed this deadline and £1.1bn of this new package is to finish the job and is committed to homes  already in the pipeline.
To make up for the Government’s cuts, the private sector contributions of £2.5bn announced in his press release will come from borrowing by housing associations. This is more in four years than they have collectively borrowed since the late 80s. This model  of funding is not sustainable.
The settlement also confirms that 1,500 homes in the pipeline and funded under the previous Government’s programme as social housing – the lowest-cost housing for rent, which is so desperately needed – have been lost in London because they will now be converted to the so called ‘Affordable Rent’* model. In many cases this will double rents for low-income households in London and price many families out of the housing market.
In the context of housing benefit caps, welfare reforms and rising homelessness, the growing need in London is for low rent family housing. But this deal is particularly damaging for families. We understand that only around 30% of the homes will be family sized. This seriously undermines Boris Johnson’s pledge that 42% of new homes should be for families, a fact omitted from his announcement.

*The London Assembly Planning and Housing Committee recently published a report on the impact of the Affordable Rent model on London, the findings of which are summarised here.